June 16, 2010 David Balzer

2 Corinthians 3: Counterfeit Christianity

This is my NEW Timex Ironman triathlon watch. 30 Lap stopwatch, with lap and split mode. 3 alarms, water resistant to 100m. Full price from Rebel was $150.

This is my OLD Timex Ironman triathlon watch. 30 lap stopwatch, with lap and split mode. 3 alarms. It SAYS it’s water resistant to 200m. Which SOUNDS better. Bought on ebay, brand new for $40.

Which seemed too good to be true… Because it WAS too good to be true. Ever since I bought it, I’d had suspicions. The display didn’t quite seem as bright as it should be. And the night light seemed a bit dodgy.

Caron reckoned it was a fake right from the start. But it wasn’t until I took it into the surf during the holidays, and it STOPPED WORKING that I realised it was A FAKE. A cheap COPY. An imitation.

All the LABELS said it was genuine. And it came with all the right bits of PAPER. It promised to be just as good. In fact, it promised to be BETTER than the original. 200m water resistant. That’s like a proper DIVING watch. But I shouldn’t even have got it DAMP.

It’s the problem of being able to tell the GENUINE article from the COUNTERFEIT version.

In the big scheme of things, my mistake didn’t matter that much.

But when it came to the Corinthian Christians, it was literally a matter of life and . How to tell the GENUINE article from the COUNTERFEIT. In this case, the difference between fake and authentic CHRISTIANITY.

We’re looking at Ch 3 of the Apostle Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. And I think we forget how easy it would be to fall for a fake back in Paul’s day. TODAY, we’ve got the Bible. We’ve got countless books on Christianity. There’s tapes and videos. The internet. There’s older Christians. Theologically-trained Christians. Who can WARN us. TEACH us. Who can be on the look out against counterfeits.

But in Corinth, there was no Bible. Only the OT. Perhaps a copy of some of Paul’s letters. And when it came to older Christians, the most at Corinth were no more than three years old! Remember Paul founded the church there, saw people converted. And only stayed for EIGHTEEN MONTHS before he moved on.

No wonder it was easy for false teachers to come in, and start making all sorts of outrageous claims. Teaching a COUNTERFEIT CHRISTIANITY.

We saw last time some of the claims they were making. That Christianity was about SUCCESS and POWER. About receiving all God’s promises and blessings NOW. And that if you were SUFFERING, or doing it TOUGH. Or still struggling. Then there was something WRONG, deficient, with your version of Christianity.

And THAT showed Paul in a bad light. Because those were the things that described him to A TEE. Suffering. Persecuted. Sick. Hungry. Beaten. Shipwrecked. Penniless, and Single.

So, who was right? What ARE the marks of authentic Christianity? And how can you tell the FAKE, from the real thing?

And it’s a question that’s just as important TODAY. Because there’s a whole range of different opinions out there about what genuine Christian experience LOOKS LIKE.

Some say it’s about speaking in tongues. Or about priests dressing up in special gear, doing mysterious stuff up the front. Or it’s about everyone using the right WORDS week after week – like some sort of mantra. Or it’s about the sort of songs you sing.

Others say GENUINE Christians will never be SICK, or POOR, or SUFFER. And still OTHERS say it doesn’t matter WHAT you believe, as long as everyone is NICE to each other, and that God will reckon THAT’S GOOD ENOUGH.

So, what ARE the marks of authentic Christianity? And how can you tell the FAKE, from the real thing? It was important for Paul/ and it’s just as important for US TODAY.

Paul’s references

What made things even more difficult in Paul’s time was that the impostors came with REFERENCES. They’d turned up in Corinth with letters of recommendation from other churches. “This guy’s the real deal. He’s got some teaching that will really make a difference in your Christian life.”

That’s the sort of thing that’s behind what Paul says in v1.

3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like SOME people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?

Paul’s trying to defend himself. They accuse him of not being THE REAL DEAL. Of not having any accreditation. Like the false teachers / who had references by the BUCKET LOAD.

But Paul goes on to say HIS mark of authenticity isn’t bits of paper. It’s the reality of his work. Paul’s marks of authenticity are the CORINTHIANS THEMSELVES Look there in v2.

2 YOU YOURSELVES ARE OUR LETTER, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that YOU are a letter from Christ, THE RESULT OF OUR MINISTRY, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

The proof of the pudding’s in the eating. And Paul’s PROVED he’s authentic because of his FRUIT. The Corinthian church is growing and maturing, going from strength to strength HUMANLY SPEAKING, because of Paul’s work.

Not that Paul’s taking the CREDIT for it. Any growth at Corinth is because of the work of THE SPIRIT. See it there in v3? “You are the result of our ministry WRITTEN WITH THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD on your hearts.

God is LIVING. And LIVING Christians see GOD AT WORK IN THEM. That’s the FIRST test of authenticity.

So, I guess it bears asking the question – Do YOU bear the marks of authenticity that other people can see? Are you a LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION for Jesus/ to those who know you’re a Christian?

Has the Spirit of the living God written himself across YOUR heart? Is he obvious in YOUR PRIORITIES? In the things you LOVE? In your speech? In the way you treat people? In the things you consider WORTHLESS?

Are you DIFFERENT from a year ago? Is there PROGRESS? Are you more even-tempered? More self-controlled? Less selfish? Is your prayer-life better? Is your knowledge of the Bible better? Are you more faithful? More consistent? More thorough? More joyful? More content? More calm? More secure?

When someone looks at you, will they see that Christianity WORKS?

Or what about us AS A CHURCH? What do visitors think? Is this a place where they see AUTHENTICITY? Genuine love and faith and hope? Where they see the love God’s shown us in Christ/ working itself out in the depth of AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIPS, in sacrificial service in each others lives. Where they see a genuine desire to see people saved. A consistent commitment to speaking the truth in love to each other.

I’ve mentioned it before, but here’s Leadership’s vision for where we’d like to be in five years time.

A vibrant, energetic, and active, loving, outward-looking, Bible-saturated, joyful, godly, generous, mutually encouraging, and prayerful body of believers, who long for heaven, and who follow Jesus courageously as individuals, families and a congregation

That’s where we want to be. Because they’re the REAL marks of authenticity. Of success. Not huge numbers. Or big buildings. Or multiple staff. OR slick presentations.

God MAY be working through those things. But they’re only the MEANS to the END. The end of MATURITY and CHRISTLIKENESS.

We need to make sure our focus doesn’t get distracted from the GOAL/ by some of these OTHER things that might only be part of the process.

Because it’s THOSE sorts of things which God is at work doing. And they’re the things which are the mark of our authenticity.

Let me read that goal again. Why not stick that somewhere you can see it. In your Bible. On the toilet door, or the fridge. And PRAY about it. Pray that God will be making us a people like THAT.

A vibrant, energetic, and active, loving, outward-looking, Bible-saturated, joyful, godly, generous, mutually encouraging, and prayerful body of believers, who long for heaven, and who follow Jesus courageously as individuals, families and a congregation

Marks of Authenticity

Back to Paul’s argument. He’s said the Corinthian church is his living letter of recommendation. Because they bear the marks of GENUINE CHRISTIANITY.

And then Paul goes on to describe IN MORE DETAIL the sort of genuine ministry he has. And along the way, he gives us a number of tests of authenticity. Marks of genuine Christian experience.

And as we work through the list, I want to dedicate it to TWO SORTS OF PEOPLE. Firstly, if you’re a Christian – which is most of you – this is dedicated to you.

These marks of authenticity Paul goes on to describe/ are wonderful gifts from God for YOU TO EXPERIENCE. So I want you, as we work through them, to be REJOICING. To be thanking God for his GOODNESS to you. For all that the Christian life is about.

Thank him that you haven’t been tricked into any of the counterfeits that people have come up with. Pale imitations of the life God’s prepared for us in Jesus.

Secondly, perhaps you’re NOT a Christian. If that’s you, then this is dedicated to YOU TOO. As we work through these marks of authenticity I want you to be listening carefully. And asking yourself, are these GOOD THINGS TO HAVE? Are these the sorts of things that I WANT? And are these the sorts of things I see in this group of people here at Western Blacktown?

And if, at the end of today, you end up answering YES to those questions. Then it would be great to talk to me about it. And you can find out how they can become part of YOUR experience. Which really means becoming a Christian.

1. God gets the credit

The first mark of authentic Christianity is there in v3-6. Paul’s talking about how the credit needs to go to God.

Look at v5.

5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but OUR COMPETENCE COMES FROM GOD. 6 HE has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant

There’s nothing about Paul’s own abilities, or qualifications, his success, or his efforts. Anything progress that’s being made through Paul’s work is BECAUSE of GOD. Authentic Christianity is marked by a desire to see GOD get the credit.

When leaders of churches want to take all the attention. When they want people to follow THEM, rather than following Jesus. When leaders insist that they’re RIGHT, and everyone else is WRONG. It should set warning bells off.

So, if I tell you something, please, never just take my word for it. Be checking what I say against God’s Word. And if you think I’ve got it wrong, then TELL me.

Because genuine Christianity recognizes that God’s the one who causes people to grow. God’s the one who builds churches. Who guides and directs. Who empowers and gives gifts. Who produces fruit.

Which is a wonderful comfort and encouragement for a church. To know that it’s not just about US. Success doesn’t rest solely on OUR SHOULDERS. Because if that was the case, I probably would have given up YEARS AGO.

  1. Life, not (6)

The second mark of authentic Christianity is that God’s Spirit is PRODUCING LIFE. Not . Have a look at the second part of v6.

6 He has made us competent as ministers of A NEW COVENANT-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE.

Paul’s comparing HIS message – the good news of forgiveness through Jesus – with the OLD covenant. The OT. Which was about following all the rules. Commandments. The sacrifices. The food laws. The ritual. Completely. Perfectly. All the time.

And if you didn’t/ it meant JUDGMENT. And .

Judgment and FOR EVERYONE. Because there’s NO ONE who can keep the OLD rules. And so we’re all under God’s condemnation.

But authentic Christianity proclaims FORGIVENESS. And LIFE. Eternal life. Life that not only goes forever. But a richness to life that begins NOW. Life that takes on the flavour and colour and perspective of eternity.

It’s life that only comes from God’s Spirit.

  1. Righteousness, not condemnation (9)

And closely tied up with LIFE/ is the next mark of authentic Christianity. Number 3. RIGHTEOUSNESS.

In the next paragraph Paul goes on comparing the OT and the New. And he bases it on that story we read earlier about Moses.

In Exodus 34 Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God. And God gave him the ten commandments. And when he came down to talk to the people, his face SHONE. So bright he had to cover it up.

And Paul says that if the Ten Commandments, and everything that went with them, came with GLORY, (Moses’ face shone) and THEY only result in . Then how much MORE glorious is Christianity. Look there in v9.

9 If the ministry that CONDEMNS men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings RIGHTEOUSNESS!

That is/ right standing before God. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Friendship. It’s the OPPOSITE of condemnation and guilt.

Not something we EARN, but a gift from God, through the of Jesus in our place.

And authentic Christianity rejoices in that verdict that God gives us. Because it could NEVER come through the obeying the rules in the OT system.

SOME people find God’s verdict hard to accept. IT seems to god to be true. Or they’re suspicious of getting something for nothing.

And so they go through life with a huge set of scales. Weighing up their GOOD deeds and their BAD deeds. HOPING that at the end of their life they’ll come down on the GOOD side. And that will be enough for God to sneak them in the back door.

Acceptance and restoration and righteousness. It’s something Mormons can’t understand. Or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Muslims have no understanding of grace. Of a God who forgives.

Many Catholics have taken their eyes off Jesus, and are too concerned about deeds, and ritual. About attendance, and rule-keeping. And so the simple mark of AUTHENTIC Christianity gets lost. That when God forgives us, he declares us . Righteous in his sight. Because of the work of Jesus.

  1. Everlasting, not finishing (11)

Fourth, the OT system FADES AWAY. God designed it with in-built obsolescence. An expiry date. Like milk that lasts a week, or TV’s that break down after five years. But Christianity has a glory that LASTS. See it there in v11?

11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which LASTS!

The promises of God in Christ will never be superceded, or need updating. Science will never disprove them. The work of Jesus was ONE EVENT. And its effectiveness lasts FOREVER. No UPDATES, or PRODUCT RE-CALLS. No second editions. No renovation, or updating required.

  1. Boldness, not reluctance and fear (12)

Fifth, all of that/ means authentic Christianity has an attitude of BOLDNESS AND CONFIDENCE. Not reluctance and fear. V12.

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, WE ARE VERY BOLD.

Christians don’t have a SELF-confidence but a SAVIOUR-confidence. Not confidence in OUR works, but JESUS’ work. It’s not presumption, but confident trust. Hebrews 10:19 puts it like this

19 ..since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place BY THE OF JESUS, …let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience … 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

That’s the confidence that genuine Christianity can have. No wonder Christians have something to sing about!

  1. Clarity and intimacy, not haziness, and alienation (13-16)

Moving on. The sixth test Paul mentions is that genuine Christianity is about CLARITY AND INTIMACY, not haziness and alienation.

He says, in v13, we are NOT like MOSES. When Moses came down from Mt Sinai, the people couldn’t look at him because his face shone so brightly. He covered it up. The people had to keep their distance from the mountain itself. Only Moses could get near to God.

But Paul says we are not like that. Look down to v16.

16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, THE VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY.

In other words, God has gone to the trouble to REVEAL himself to us. In his word the Bible, and in his Son Jesus. We can know what he’s like. We can see him CLEARLY.

But what’s more, we can APPROACH him. Get close. We can be in a real, living relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

Which other religions and cults just can’t understand. It’s an incredible privilege that comes, not because we’ve managed to reach God on our own. That’s like trying to lift yourself up by the boot strings. But that God has bridged the gap himself. With the cross of Jesus.

  1. Freedom, not slavery (17)

Seventh. Authentic Christianity is about FREEDOM, not slavery. V17.

17 ..where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM.

If you follow Paul’s argument, it’s God’s Spirit that gives LIFE, it’s the ministry of the Spirit that brings RIGHTEOUSNESS, which means we can have BOLDNESS and INTIMACY. All of that means we’ve been SET FREE. Released from guilt, and . Released from judgment and fear.

Released to live life now the way we were designed, knowing who we are, and what we’re here for. Knowing our Creator and Saviour. Knowing our FUTURE. Living with Jesus on the throne of your life.

Which really IS freedom.

8. Growing more like Christ (18)

The final mark of authentic Christianity is there on v18. Once again, Paul’s thinking back to that story of Moses. When Moses met with God, and his face shone, it gradually FADED. Over days or weeks. Until it was back to normal. But it’s not like that when Christians come into contact with Jesus. Look at v18.

18 And we, who with unveiled faces ALL REFLECT THE LORD’S GLORY, are BEING TRANSFORMED INTO HIS LIKENESS with EVER-INCREASING GLORY, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Little by little, as we follow Jesus, as we submit to his kingship over us more and more, we begin to REFLECT him. Our character becomes a little more like his. Our attitude to people, and things becomes a little more like Jesus. The way we speak, and the way we think reflects more and more of the perfection of Jesus.

There are probably times when you WONDER about that truth. When it doesn’t seem like you’re reflected ANYTHING AT ALL of Jesus.

When that same sin seems to drag you down. When the changes seem to came so slowly and painfully that you wonder whether

But the reality is/ if you’re a Christian, then God’s Spirit is living in you. And he’s slowly but surely working on you. Polishing you up, rubbing the rough edges off.

And one day, he’ll COMPLETE the job. In eternity, there’ll be no more sin, and God’s people will reflect him ABSOLUTELY.

Well, they’re Paul’s marks of authenticity. How did you go with the check list?

If you’re a Christian, this list is dedicated to YOU. Rejoice and praise God for his goodness to you. Which of these do you need to be taken a tighter hold of?

Finally, if you’re NOT a Christian (YET), this list is ALSO dedicated to YOU. What do you think of it? Are they the sorts of things that make you THIRSTY? Things you LONG for?

Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and DRINK.”

These are the things God promises are AUTHENTIC Christianity. His gift. And he’s offering it to you FOR FREE. Won’t you TAKE it?

Don’t settle for an imitation!

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